First published on 26 Mar 2012. Updated on 26 Mar 2012.
Madonna's latest album, MDNA, probably won't win over the unitiated, but for fans burned by Madge's last outing, the album is a fine return to form (form being latter-day Madge's serviceable dance-pop). Here's our take, one song at a time...
Girls Gone Wild (3.43)
MDNA’s opening salvo is its statement of purpose: there will be prayer, there will be a ‘newly single’ vibe and there will be Euro club beats. Lots. Of. Them. What there won’t be is an overabundance of instantly grabby hooks (despite all the bouncy, staccato “desi-i-i-i-re” business). Still, the Benny Benassi-produced track recalls Confessions on a Dancefloor; which is a good thing – even if we’re not kicking off with a bang, at least we know we’re not sucking on Hard Candy anymore.
Gang Bang (5.26)
Madge is possessed by a mouthy Nancy Sinatra in this way-OTT experiment produced by Mr Nelly Futardo, Demacio Castellon: “Bang bang, shot you dead, shot my lover in the head” goes the strangely jaunty chorus. It’s mostly spoken against a bassy throb, and it mostly works, despite some bizarre lyrical flourishes – Madonna yelling, “Now drive, bitch!” feels wrong, but there are probably English chauffeurs who’d disagree. And the dubstep breakdown that grinds the song to its finale is pretty awesome, like Skrillex remixed by Megatron.
I’m Addicted (4.33)
More Benassi fuzz-noise here, a ‘your love is my addiction’ series of mish-mashed build-ups that will work in clubs and on jogging tracks... not likely to do much for you elsewhere. The "M-D-N-A" chant at the end ain’t half bad, and the post-chorus snare palpitations excite, but overall this is overcooked. Should have been taken out about ten minutes earlier and rested.
Turn Up the Radio (3.46)
The album’s best moment is a thow-way-back: a synth-driven and fluttery ode to the pulling power of music that feels delightfully “old Madonna”, with some house inflections. The lyrics are goofily bland – “Drown out the noise and turn up the volume” – and French DJ Martin Solveig knows when to push a Guetta-style build and when to throw in a hard break. It may not quite be the bliss-fest that is Kylie’s more brilliant ‘All the Lovers’, but by God it's a fan-pleaser.
Give Me all Your Luvin’ (featuring Nicki Minaj and MIA) (3.23)
The album’s first single was roundly panned… and rightly so. It’s a pop music ‘Turducken’: a decent bit of old-school Madge stuffed with turbo-speed Nicki Minaj and some lazy-sounding MIA, then wrapped in a Gwen Stefani-style cheerleader chant. The kind of thing you dream about when you’re feeling all mushy at Arq, but will really just gives you a stomachache. A shame, because the main thread is solid. And Minaj is always good – but squished into a 10-second bracket, she sounds like Vicky Pollard explaining why she barged into the recording session.
Some Girls (3.24)
Swedish producer Klas Ahlund (responsible for Ke$ha’s great ‘Blow’) and William Orbit (who worked on Ray of Light) squeeze Madge into android mode here. How they manage to remove even more personality from her voice, we don’t know, but hearing it float characterless above their rich and infectious looping beats, we’re glad they did. It works. Still, it must be said, there’s a creepy Japanese sex robot thing going on when she sings, “Wrap your arms around my neck, it’s time to steal some hugs today.”
You might be keen to dismiss this one: we won’t. It’s one of the album’s strongest, and again – take the hint Ms Ciccone – it’s all about throwback. Simple, Lourdes-light, and almost dumbly poppy – “ooh la la you’re my superstar, ooh la la that’s what you are” – and with some meta conjuring of one her own biggest hits – “You’re like Brando on the silver screen” – it’s unambitious, saccharine and would pair nicely with a bottle of passion pop and a good Molly Ringwald montage.
I Don’t Give A (4.19)
This dubby bit of braggadocio has us fighting an internal battle. On the one hand, we feel it’s a bit off that poor Guy Ritchie not only has come out of his divorce looking about three feet tall, but now has to put up with a lyrical lashing like this: “I tried to be a good girl, tried to be a wife, diminish myself, swallowed my light.” But then… well we just want to dance. Minaj is given a chance to shine here. Though hearing her just reminds us of when Madonna herself would release straight-out pop gems as good as ‘Starships’. Sigh…
I’m a Sinner (4.52)
Another good Orbit-produced track, big on the smiley ’60s vibe and reminiscent of ‘Beautiful Stranger’, her song for the Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack. Oh and there’s more prayer – “Hail Mary, full of Grace, get down on your knees and pray” – plus a run-through of your most important saints and what they did – “St Anthony lost and found, Thomas Aquinus stand your ground, all those Saints and Holy Men, catch me before I sin again.” Clangy and snare-stuffed, it’s a great bit of sexy pop. Stick around for the breakdown.
Love Spent (3.46)
‘Love Spent’ begins with plucky guitar, and if that makes you think, ‘Don’t Tell Me’, you won’t be the only one. And while there’s nothing country about this – with stressed strings, tinkered-with vocals and fast, fumbling beats, it’s like a delicate rave – the two tracks share a darkness. If you’re wondering who might have inspired said darkness, check out the lyric: “You played, with my heat, til death do we part, that’s what we said. Now you have you have your fast car, women and bars, it’s gone to your head… Love me like your money, spend it til there’s nothing.”
It’s pretty, and a nice change from the rest of the album’s insistent “get your ass on the floor” vibe, but this ballad never takes. Orbit does some nice work with the minimal, bass-click-click beat, but given her limitations, Madge really needs a strong melody when she slows things down. ‘Masterpiece’ does not provide. What it does provide is one helluva lyrical clunker in the opening truism, “If you were the Mona Lisa, You’d be hanging in the Louvre.” And it may well give some pop-loving student a nice thesis topic: the popularity of museum-based extended metaphors in pop music in 2012 (see Regina Spektor’s newby … if you must).
Falling Free (5.13)
Rich strings, a light tinkle of keys, the occasional spot of electro disturbance… this is the better ballad of the album’s two. It’s also evidence that Madge might have spent time too much time across the pond – it sure sounds like she’s picked up some kind of Celtic lilt. If the rest of the album would feel right turned up to 11 in some skeezy Ibiza club, this is more suited to frolicking in the Sire or a poignant moment’s reflection in King’s Landing.
Of the bonus tracks, ‘I Fucked Up’ is the one most deserving of a place in the album proper. Lyrically honest and with kicky beats that skitter beneath like muffled firecrackers, it’s an awesome sign-off. Even if Madge does sound like a tipsy toff being dared to say the F-word.